Tuesday 4 March 2014

What's the End Game for Ukraine?

Who actually wants a war in Ukraine? Despite sending the troops in in the first place, I'm not convinced Putin does. The Russian and blockaded Ukrainian troops in Crimea don't - as these remarkable scenes from earlier show. Russians and Ukrainians East and West don't. The new government, excepting Svoboda (Freedom) and the fascist street militias, don't. And neither does the State Department, Downing Street and Berlin. As no one wants war, and no one has an interest in one, you might naively ask how we ended up here and why negotiations with a view to a settlement aren't taking place?

I want to back peddle a bit. The US, Britain and Russia are party to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum guaranteeing Ukraine's territorial integrity. Now, those are two words that have been bandied about a lot in recent days. What is 'territorial integrity'? Is it just about lines on a map staying once and forever inviolable? It all depends, really. For example, before it occupied land taken from Egypt, Jordan and Syria in the Six Day War did Israel have "territorial integrity" when Jerusalem was split between two states and was only nine miles wide at its narrowest point? Does present day Germany and Poland, despite having different borders than was the case 80 years ago?

This implies there's something more to the idea of this concept merely than an irregularly shaped and coloured blot of land in an atlas. In his discussion of what constitutes a state, the classical German sociologist Max Weber noted that a state was an organisation that exercised a legitimate monopoly of violence over a given territory. But this is too neat. Every nation recognises the Mexican government, for example. It is the legitimate, sovereign body for that country. Yet can it be described as having territorial integrity when whole Mexican states are blighted by a vicious drugs war that has killed thousands? Similarly, can a state have true territorial integrity when large numbers of its citizens - especially those from minority nationalities and ethnicities - might not recognise it as legitimate, as per the situation in Ukraine?

For all the Western powers' waxing over territorial integrity, that was fatally undermined when the revolution took place. Revolutions are rarely respecters of constitutional niceties (take note, Vladimir), but in this case Ukraine's uprising was essentially a national-popular uprising by the western Ukrainian majority. As this was and is opposed by large numbers in the east, evidenced by large-scale demonstrations and take overs of state buildings any talk of territorial integrity is a fiction. The presence of Russian troops in Crimea merely underline what was already accomplished.

What now, then? As the earthquake of revolution has shaken open nationalist fissures, a deep and lasting settlement has to begin with those nationalities, not cartographic scribbles. That other Vladimir, Vladimir Lenin has something to commend him here. In a different time and for very different reasons, he grappled with the problem of minority nationalities of Imperial Russia. Sometimes known as the prison house of nations, how was it possible to reconcile the masses of the subject nations to socialist politics when nationalism deeply conditioned political opposition to Tsarism? Lenin's argument was simple: grant subject nationalities the right to self-determination, up to and including separation. The logic was two-fold. By incorporating national rights into the Bolshevik's programme, revolutionary socialists could appear to be the most consistent champions for small nations groaning under the weight of Great Russian chauvinism. This would give them the masses' ear - after all, Lenin did note that nationalism was the outer shell of an immature Bolshevism. The second fiddle to the Bolshevik bow was the belief that granting nations their independence, if the so chose, sooner rather than later drew the sting out of nationalism. The reality of life under the local elites would be no better than life under the Tsar. But without nationalism for those elites to hide behind, the antagonisms proper to capitalism would come more to the fore and make the rapid development of socialist consciousness more likely.

I'm no revolutionary, and a retro replay of the Red October is not lurking around the corner. But when you start thinking through 'what is to be done?' Lenin's position has something to recommend it. Flecked with the blood of pogrom and genocide Ukrainian nationalism might be, its frame is supported by an historic antipathy to Russian domination. Russian speakers, on the other hand, can certainly find no accommodation with a "national" government that embraces the record of Ukrainian nationalism under the Nazis, revokes their language rights, tears down monuments to the war's Soviet fallen and talks about 'one nation' Ukraine. Enforcing "territorial integrity" under present circumstances is a recipe, at best, for persistent social divisions.

Could giving not just Crimea but the whole of East Ukraine the right to determine its future as per Lenin dampen down nationalism and with it the risk of war? Unfortunately, no. Ukraine is caught in a game between the great powers. In the first place separation along national lines is, in reality, the carving up of Ukraine into spheres of influence. Secondly, uncoupling east from west would strengthen the perception of Russian dominance. Separation would be a constant source of nationalist grievance. If anything, Ukrainian politics could get uglier.

Starting from great power machinations tramples on the rights and security of the people caught between them. But proceeding from national rights under these circumstances is a non-starter too. Perhaps, weirdly, Putin's proposal of new elections might diffuse the situation somewhat. After all, the revolutionary government in Kiev are committed to them too. So hey, we have a point of agreement already! Or guarantees to national minorities that they will be protected - if they feel threatened - by replacing Russian with non-EU, non-US UN troops. Unfortunately, an equitable solution for all Ukrainians is highly unlikely because a permanent peace requires removing the US, EU and Russia from the equation. But let's be realistic here. That's not going to happen any time soon. Any agreement is going to be a shoddy compromise, a piece of paper off which hypocrisy drips like wet ink as the great power tussle continues in the background.

End game? I'm afraid it's hardly started.


Boffy said...

The problem being, of course, that for all their talk about being defenders of freedom and so on, there is no way the US and its allies are going to support the right of self-determination even for the Crimea, which is historically part of Russia not Ukraine, let alone the rest of South-East Ukraine.

A look at what happened in Kosovo is a good example on a smaller scale. The US via the CIA financed the KLA, which was until then a pretty ineffective bunch of criminals and fascists. With that support the KLA began to kidnap Kosovan Serbs, burn Serb farms etc. which provoked a backlash in a region where Albanian and Serb Kosovans had for years lived in relative peace.

That provided the background and excuse for Milosevic to launch his invasion of Kosovo, which then gave the pretext for the US to launch its Balkan War to overthrow another Russian client state in a strategically important region.

Having installed the Kosovan Albanians as the ruling group, the Kosovan Serbs then suffered pogroms and ethnic cleansing, whilst NATO and EU forces simply stood by and watched.

If that happened on the scaled up version in Ukraine, it would be WWIII.

Marxists can't support Russia's intervention, but we also have to be clear in opposing the machinations of western imperialism, and of the reactionaries in Western Ukraine too.

Gary Elsby said...

Russia will pull out leaving a token military presence around its agreed bases and the EU (the West) will bail out Ukraine (as Russia bails out Crimea). Personal EU guarantees over minority Russian Citizens everywhere will prevail.
There could be a split of Ukraine down the middle but this will be done democratically if at all.
Putin will be seen as a firm man of peace.

Boffy said...

It Now Appears that the snipers shooting people in the Maidan were employed by the opposition leaders, who now form the government!

The Great Masturbator said...


Alex Ross said...

"Lenin's argument was simple: grant subject nationalities the right to self-determination, up to and including separation."

But Lenin and the Bolsheviks were hardly true to their "principles" here...in invading Georgia and violently overthrowing it's hugely popular, elected, Menshevik government and doing the same in Azerbaijan with the ADR. Both states were often appalling in their treatment of their own national minorities...but certainly not the worst offenders in the region and neither posed a serious threat to Bolshevik controlled Russia.

But putting the Bolsheviks to one side (where they belong!!), there is clearly a deeper problem with blind slogans of national self-determination...particularly in regions characterised by minorities within minorities within majorities and (periodic) bloodshead. For example, in breakaway republics such as Crimea you have a significant minority of Tatars, in South Ossetia, a large Georgian minority (much of it now in exile) and, in Karabakh, an entrenched Azeri minority. Unlike the UK, where the vote on Scottish secession would not make a blind bit of difference to the question of minority rights, these situations are very different - for historical and political rather than cultural reasons.

Often the best solution is to preserve the territorial integrity of the existing state, whilst bolstering it's legitimacy by entrenching regional democratic autonomy, language and cultural rights etc. in a way that can be monitored multilaterally. This, as opposed to the majoritarian solution of simply saying x nationality has 51% of the vote in y province hence they can secede.

Finding agencies with the credibility, willingness and ability to do the monitoring is, however, the difficult part!!

Boffy said...

There has been considerable effort to dismiss the revelation that it was the leaders of the protest movement in Ukraine, now in the Government, who hired the snipers that shot at both protesters and police. At first, lots of posts abounded that the phone call was a fake created by the Russians. That line soon had to be dropped when the Estonian Government confirmed that the phone call was genuine.

The BBC said nothing about the reports yesterday, which sort of begs the question of either the quality or impartiality of their journalism. Channel 4 News did report it, but only to dismiss it. They said that the nurse who had provided the original information to the Estonian Foreign Minister, was now saying she had said no such thing!

But, the Estonian Government, like other Baltic Governments is no friend of Russia or Putin. They were amongst the first to apply to join NATO and the EU. So, why would their Foreign Minister, not just some back bench MP, say that such information had been provided to them? Why is it that, as he said, the new Ukrainian governmetn is so opposed to any investigation into who was responsible?

Boffy said...

"Often the best solution is to preserve the territorial integrity of the existing state, whilst bolstering it's legitimacy by entrenching regional democratic autonomy, language and cultural rights etc. in a way that can be monitored multilaterally."

Which is precisely what Lenin argued. Lenin argued that Bolsheviks should be defenders of the "RIGHT" of national self-determination for minorities, but should as Marxists within the oppressed nationality argue against it being used, because it would create divisions between the workers.

Lenin argues that Marxists are in favour not of national self-determination, but the self-determination and self-government of the working-class across borders.

“The Social-Democrats will always combat every attempt to influence national self-determination from without by violence or by any injustice. However, our unreserved recognition of the struggle for freedom of self-determination does not in any way commit us to supporting every demand for national self-determination. As the party of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party considers it to be its positive and principal task to further the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than that of peoples or nations. We must always and unreservedly work for the very closest unity of the proletariat of all nationalities, and it is only in isolated and exceptional cases that we can advance and actively support demands conducive to the establishment of a new class state or to the substitution of a looser federal unity, etc., for the complete political unity of a state.”

The National Question in Our Programme

That is also the point about Georgia etc. If the prime objective is to build workers self-government, then the support of a Workers Government in one country to help workers in another country overthrow their rulers is not incompatible.

Alex said...

It's not actually a "revelation" is it? It's more like "Some guy said some guy said something".

Also: "Channel 4 News did report it, but only to dismiss it. They said that the nurse who had provided the original information to the Estonian Foreign Minister, was now saying she had said no such thing!"

Well yes. People often change their minds, change their memories, are wrong, are misquoted or mistranslated or misattributed. Or they realise later that they were talking rubbish, perhaps when they discover that someone has taken it seriously.

Further, I have no idea how this person is meant to know; she isn't as far as I know a forensic ballistics expert, and anyway I would expect any "snipers" you can apparently just hire in Kyiv (in the yellow pages? on craigslist? it's not Hampstead but it's not quite that wild a place) to be using the same Soviet-type 7.62x39mm ammunition as the police or army or spooks or whoever.

Also, can anyone name an incident when it wasn't the police (or people fighting on their side with their permission) who machine-gunned the demonstration?

Gary Elsby said...

But they are the equivalent of our BNP?

Boffy said...

No its not like some guy, said some guy said something. The snipers rifles were seen being loaded into the boot of a car belonging to one of the Maidan leaders. There is video footage of it.

The bullets that killed the protesters are the same bullets that killed the police, and that has been forensically verified. The nurse that provided the information, according to Channel 4 is well known. The Estonian Foreign Minister has also now tried to say that he never claimed that the snipers had been employed by the protest leaders, but if you listen to the phone conversation that is quite clearly and distinctly exactly what he does say.

The new government are refusing any kind of independent investigation into the shootings. The EU received this phone call several days ago, and its clear that Kathy Ashton sounded shocked at the revelation, but rather than doing anything about it or themselves calling for any kind of independent investigation, they kept quiet until the phone call was leaked.

The BBC still have not even mentioned its existence, despite the fact that its been widely discussed on social media.